Monday, 8 July 2013

Drinking-up time

Here's a great big Teddy bear of a moth, and one which for me goes back almost to Teddy bear childhood days. It's a Drinker, which I found neatly slumbering beneath an eggbox surrounded by smaller and less exciting companions. More than half a century ago, Drinker caterpillars were part of my life at the age of seven as a boarding schoolboy far from home.

The pig-like snout slightly detracts from the charm

It seems hard to imagine now, but I was despatched at that tender age all the way from Leeds to Herefordshire, in the lea of the beautiful Malvern Hills. After the initial shock, I enjoyed it enormously and had my introduction there to the study of butterflies and moths.

Morning sunshine gives the colouring a glow

The school was run by Quakers who believed in a broad education; indeed, during my five years, their lack of emphasis on a competitive approach to exams led to a parents' revolt, when alarming numbers of otherwise well-rounded and charming children failed to pass the exams necessary to get them into 'big' school. Once a week, a whole afternoon was devoted to 'Hobbies' and mine was butterflies and moths.

We were enthused and ferried about by a young teacher called Mr Hope-Simpson whose nickname of 'Hopeless Sam' was more a play on words than related in any way to the truth. He tipped us off that the handsome caterpillars of the Drinker, with their velvety blue livery, could be found on grass stems of an evening, high up so that they could drink the first dew drops. Hence the moth's name.

So it proved; and we captured and reared a great many - I still remember watching in amazement the hatching of a female, which are larger and paler brown than the male. Thus a lifelong interest was kindled. So it was a pleasure to be reacquainted with the species after all these years and I hope to find caterpillars as well in due course.

One of the Drinker's companions in the trap was a moth new to me, this delicate-looking Muslin Footman, above. It made a fitting companion for a pair of other graceful arrivals shown in the last two photographs: the different variations of the Riband Wave, one with the cross-bar filled in and the other more like tramlines.

My school, incidentally, had a very famous teacher well before my time in W H Auden who wrote his lovely poem A Summer's Night there in 1933. Like him, on hot summer nights we slept in beds outside and learned to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings and the way that goodness in people outweighs the bad. Here's an extract:

Out on the lawn I lie in bed,
Vega conspicuous overhead
In the windless nights of June,
As congregated leaves complete
Their day’s activity; my feet
Point to the rising moon.

Lucky, this point in time and space
Is chosen as my working-place,
Where the sexy airs of summer,
The bathing hours and the bare arms,
The leisured drives through a land of farms
Are good to a newcomer.

Equal with colleagues in a ring
I sit on each calm evening
Enchanted as the flowers
The opening light draws out of hiding
With all its gradual dove-like pleading,
Its logic and its powers:

That later we, though parted then
May still recall these evenings when
Fear gave his watch no look;
The lion griefs loped from the shade
And on our knees their muzzles laid,
And Death put down his book.

It's worth Googling the whole thing.